2020 was not an easy year for the sports world. From March to July, there were no sports. Sports looked very different in the second half of the year. Some of these differences should stick, while others will not. Below is a change I liked and a change that I didn’t like so much for each of the four major US sports.
What Should Stick Around: Universal DH
The concept of universal DH has been in talks for years. 2020’s modified schedule involving more inter-league play was just the final factor that convinced the MLB to implement it. Before universal DH, it was almost like Major League Baseball was two separate leagues. The World Series was a matchup of an AL champion and NL champion who got there playing slightly different versions of the game. The NL champions tended to have more pitching because they didn’t need as good of a lineup, while the AL champions usually had to have strong lineups. The NL is still more pitcher-heavy than the AL, but at least this unites the MLB under one rulebook. It was long overdue, and it needs to stay this way.
What Should be Left Behind: The Endless Negotiating
The MLB could have started the season safely as early as the end of June and they would have the whole sports market to themselves for about a month. Instead, they delayed the start of the season even more because of what was essentially a lockout. Rob Manfred did not handle the preseason negotiations well, and in the process he probably lost some MLB fans. If the MLB and MLBPA don’t get their act together and come to faster agreements, it could jeopardize the long term success of professional baseball. The financial toll on the league is already having an impact, as this off-season seems to be even slower than previous baseball off-seasons. Most of the top free agents are still available (I’ll have an article about that out soon).
What Should Stick Around: Expanded Playoffs
The 14-team playoff bracket causes more exciting late-season action and allows more teams to stay competitive throughout the year. Only the worst of the worst have really given up on this season, and even they might still be trying if it weren’t for Trevor Lawrence. The expanded playoffs also make the #1 seed more valuable, as only the #1 seed gets a first round bye. The only bad idea surrounding these expanded playoffs? That would be putting one of the extra wild card games on Nickelodeon to try to get more kids interested. Plenty of kids watch football without Nick having to get involved.
What Should be Left Behind: The Lack of a Preseason
While the season generally went well without a preseason, there were definitely more injuries than usual. Teams with lackluster offensive lines were especially vulnerable, like the Giants (who lost RB Saquon Barkley to an ACL tear) and Bengals (who lost rookie QB Joe Burrow to an ACL tear and RB Joe Mixon to a foot iniury). In addition, many talented rookies, such as Vikings WR Justin Jefferson, got off to extremely slow starts. Jefferson posted an 1000 yard season and even broke some of Randy Moss’ Vikings WR rookie records, but he barely participated at all in the first two games of the year. Yes, the preseason should be cut down a bit, but I think you need to have at least a couple preseason games to get the players ready to go. I’d propose a two game preseason, one preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the season, and one preseason game prior to roster cut down day.
What Should Stick Around: The 2020-2021 Schedule
I’ve got to be honest with you all, I like this year’s NBA schedule more than the normal NBA schedule. Shifting the start of the season to Christmas is smart, as the NBA playoffs can cut into sports viewership ratings during the dog days of summer when baseball is the only other sport on TV. Having a different season timeline than the NHL and stretching across winter, spring, and summer makes the NBA a little more unique than other leagues. Who knows, maybe outdoor summer playoff games are in the NBA’s future. In addition, I like the simple breakdown of the schedule: 2 games against every team in the other conference and 3 games against every team in your own conference. Divisions in the NBA are barely utilized to begin with, and shifting to a more balanced conference schedule without extra division play is a smart idea.
What Should be Left Behind: Universal Location Playoffs
The NBA bubble worked extremely well during the pandemic. It’s not going to work in the future. The lack of home-field advantage was probably a factor in the insane amount of upsets in the NBA bubble. Yes, a universal location playoffs might be a good way to check the power of super teams, but taking away home field advantage entirely is not the answer. I think the NBA bubble may have given an unfair advantage to certain teams. Lowering the salary cap might be a better idea.
What Should Stick Around: The Realigned Divisions
I actually really like the idea of an all-Canadian division. It was utilized this year to minimize border crossing, but it’s also going to revive classic Canadian hockey rivalries. It’s not going to work when the Seattle Kraken join the league, but the Arizona Coyotes were already going to have to change divisions. Why not stick with this realignment, put Seattle in the Western Division, and have the Coyotes pack their bags and relocate to Quebec City? The Coyotes don’t have a very good hockey market in Phoenix. In Quebec City, there are more hockey fans, and the Videotron Centre would easily be able to host an NHL team. I could see the North Division sticking around if the Coyotes move to Quebec. It may take a couple years, but I think the all-Canadian division should return in future seasons.
What Goes: The 24 Team Playoffs
Some of the teams in the NHL’s bubble did not deserve to be there. I don’t think there’s any reason to expand the NHL playoffs. 16 teams is plenty in what’s soon to be a 32 team league. If anything it’s too easy to make the NHL playoffs, but the 16 team bracket works. If they realign the league like I was talking about, they could even make the playoff bracket a four quadrant bracket by division (like they did in the NHL bubble) and make a big event out of the “Final Four” with the four divisional round winners.
2020 has forced and inspired a lot of change in the sports world. Along the same lines, this website is about to undergo some change. At certain points during the year, I didn’t have much to post about, and I think the entire sports world is ready to move on from this crazy year. To begin 2021, I will be upgrading to WordPress Premium and changing my URL from andrewr1008.wordpress.com to simply be bostonsportsmania.com. This is to make my website more accessible by making the URL easier to remember. I may make some other changes to the site and start with some new kinds of posts as well, so be on the lookout as 2021 begins. In the meantime, I hope you all have an enjoyable and safe New Year’s Eve.